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Crowd Weighs in on Sullivan Square/Rutherford Ave Project

Capuano urged the community to take more time to consider the city's redesign plan.

Hundreds of residents packed into the Knights of Columbus on Wednesday night to meet with Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Somerville, and weigh in on future improvements to Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square. Judging by the 50 or so people who spoke at the event, the crowd seemed to be evenly split: half in favor of a surface redesign that would fill in the underpasses on Rutherford Avenue and half in favor of upgrades that would preserve the underpasses. 

Capuano launched the meeting with a 30-minute speech, assuring the crowd that he was not interested in halting the project, which is already months in the making by Boston's Transportation Department. Capuano has secured $17 million in federal funding for the project and he said he intends to see it used. 

"I know some people have communicated that I've been heavy-handed or have imposed my will," he said. "This is Charlestown and I think you appreciate clear talk. …What I want to do is what you want to do. But I need to know what that is in a consensus type way."

After hearing comments from the public for the better part of three hours, Capuano said he wanted residents to take more time to consider options for the Rutherford Ave/Sullivan Square project, form an opinion and let him know their thoughts — so he could advocate one way or the other for the neighborhood. 

But many people in attendance Wednesday told Capuano they'd already taken all the time they needed to consider redesign options. The city hosted eight meetings over the course of 18 months. Several residents attended all eight meetings, learned about various proposals from city planners and traffic engineers. Ultimately these residents endorsed a redesign plan that would transform Rutherford Avenue from a highway to a boulevard, create a buffer to residential areas, install a bike path and make the area more pedestrian-friendly. The Charlestown Neighborhood Council also supports this plan.  

"We want to protect the decision the community has made," said Nathan Blanchett. 

However, there were many neighbors at the meeting claiming they'd been left out of the decision-making process. They hadn't heard about the planning meetings. They didn't know the details of the city's proposal. Some say they didn't know the project was even in the works. And they were raising concerns about what would happen to traffic on residential streets if the underpasses were removed. 

Bill Galvin, a member of the Neighborhood Council who is against the surface option, told the crowd, "cars are going to be backed up. The quality of life is going down. … The surface plan creates more and better development parcels. That's money for the BRA. Real estate taxes for the city.
"The city is sacrificing the people of Charlestown for its own interests. What's in the best interest of the city is not in the best interest of Charlestown."

Galvin, along with John Dillon, a former member of the Neighborhood Council, have been leading a grassroots initiative to stop the surface option redesign. They've collected signatures on a petition and spent time mobilizing neighbors to fight the project. 

Proponents of the surface option have launched their own initiative in recent weeks, with a web site (surfaceoptionsupporters.com) and their own petition. At Wednesday's meeting, residents in favor of the surface option design wore pink stickers to identify their allegiance. 

Surface option supporters say eliminating the underpasses and transforming Rutherford Avenue into a boulevard could change the neighborhood — for the better. It would increase green space, it could foster development of a commercial strip that could resemble Main Street and effectively reduce traffic by improving the overall flow of vehicles.  

Capuano interjected during the public comment portion of the meeting of the few times. He repeatedly insisted he did not yet have an opinion, one way or the other, on the project. He also told the crowd that there was not a simple A or B option — that perhaps the community could work out a plan that could accommodate all interests and concerns.

Judy Brennan, a Neighborhood Council member and lifelong resident of Charlestown (like many of the participants at Wednesday's meeting) perhaps best summarized the sentiment of so many people in attendance. 

She said she'd been involved in a discussion about improving Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square for more than 20 years. "The fact that I'm sitting here now, in this same position, I want to run myself into the middle of Rutherford Avenue. Please, we have got to move on this," she said. 

"We can't segregate or bifurcate this plan like we're trying to do. It only works altogether. It's a whole piece that works together."

Brennan reminded the crowd that Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square were originally designed to account for traffic while the Central Artery was constructed, and that it's function has past. 

"It's time for us to take back Rutherford Ave. There was housing, there was development on both sides of it before. We want to get that back."

John D May 19, 2011 at 11:19 PM
God bless Bill Galvin
Pete Stidman May 20, 2011 at 01:47 AM
I have to say the writer was neglectful to note quite a few details. 1. Judy Brennan was clearly in support of the surface option. 2. Both public processes, including the most recent with 7 community meetings, were well advertised in the local papers. 3. The majority of the speakers were also for the Surface Option (by my count 27-19 with a few others unclear). 4. And most importantly, several supporters of the plan said they began as skeptics, but when they looked at and studied the plan the became believers in the Surface Option. Of those who spoke in opposition to the surface option, only a handful had actually studied the plan or had been to the earlier meetings on it. What it appeared to me to be is a bunch of folks who are just hearing about the plan objecting to erasing an underpass, without having a chance to look at what would actually replace it. Because it isn't just erasing an underpass, it's rebuilding a new grid of streets well-equipped to handle the traffic present here. Hundreds of people also attended one or more the city's 7 meetings on this project, and followed the stories about the public process for it in the local papers, and in the end the majority made an informed decision on it. That's democracy at work.
Kristi Ceccarossi May 20, 2011 at 02:25 AM
Hey Pete, thanks for the note. (The writer here...) Just to clarify: I did not state that the meetings were not well advertised -- I wrote that some people in attendance said that. And to clarify further: There were *so many* comments made last night addressing a very broad scope of issues and concerns. I could not possibly get them all into one story. (I suppose I could have, but it would be very long and, I suspect, not very readable.) I tried my best to represent the meeting as I experienced it. And I can honestly say that I've got no stake in the process.
Chris B May 20, 2011 at 02:53 PM
I agree with Pete. I agree with the surface option. I also agree with some of the participants who mentioned that Rep. Capuano was doing a disservice by presenting vastly oversimplified studies, and improperly boiling the argument down to "do you want an underpass or not". It is important to realize two things: 1) The plan is not just to eliminate the underpass - it's actually comprehensive effort to redesign the intersection in general and to assuage the effects of the traffic that would otherwise be using the underpass. 2) The one and only argument against the surface option I heard was "oh no, more traffic". Even if that were true (and it seems like it is not), would that even be enough to outweigh all of the positives that this project would bring? A safer, more useful street for pedestrians, drivers, and bikers? A productive, crossable urban boulevard instead of the no-man's land that it is now? More developable land for more residences and shops?
Joseph May 20, 2011 at 05:29 PM
Am I the only one seeing a pattern here? Why are "Life Long Townies" so opposed to change? I really don't get it? I respect that you are proud to be from/live in Charlestown, so am I, that why I've been living here since 1997. However, whenever change is presented, you (LLT's) tend to be against it? I have been reading about the redevelopment of Sullivan Square for a long while. To all those that say that haven't been fully informed, or notice hasn't been properly posted is full of it!! Stop disagreeing just to disagree. Believe it or not, change can be a great thing! I agree with the surface option just to be clear.
Dan May 20, 2011 at 07:33 PM
I'm not a life long Townie, but, one who has been here over 30 years. I was involved in both the CANA & Big Dig and was involved in the first stab on rebuilding the corridor. I did make it to a few of the newer meetings. Neither meeting I attended offered any clarity and when I tried to get details I was rebuffed! I also got the local paper every week looking for the details and meeting notices. Of the two times I did see notices they where for that night the paper was published and was unable to make them. So the argument 'well publicized and well documented in the papers is just not so. I also studied the plans at length when I was finely able to find them on the web site. So don't try to pigeon hole the people who are not speaking out now as being sticks in the mud. We all want the Rutherford corridor fixed but not at the risk of undoing what we fought long and hard before. I'm willing to listen and be convinced in a different view are you? Lets have a meeting that clearly outlines the whole corridor changes and the two current plans of Sullivan Sq. I also want the the traffic engineers to explain the regional traffic types we will still have to deal with and patterns each of these designs improve as well as how they retard traffic and why they think retarding traffic will be good for C-Town.
Kate N. May 20, 2011 at 08:20 PM
I'm not a Townie, having lived here 3 years - and I oppose the surface option. So it's not because I'm nostalgic or because I'm not using my brain or because I haven't looked at the plans carefully and closely. Many many people were not aware of this project, as it was advertised as a renovation. I suspect many people are still unaware. A project of this size and impact should have involved a mailer to every household and an open and transparent planning process - with plans on display someplace public. I have no stake in either option, I just want to see that Charlestown doesn't get overwhelmed with traffic overflow - it will destroy the quality of life here and won't do much for property values. From my point of view, the underpass option offers as much beautification as the surface option, with the added benefit of keeping 40% of traffic - which is headed out of Charlestown - off the surface roads. I'm also tired of surface option supporters using ridicule and insults against those who disagree with the surface option.
MJ Campbell May 20, 2011 at 08:28 PM
Condescension is not helpful when putting forth an argument. It may be that "long term townies" have a bit more experience with the BRA and are more cautious when looking at projects backed by that authority. Older citizens will remember the West End fiasco and the mess left in this town by "those who knew better". Younger residents may want to take a look around city held properties and question the wisdom of one part this current project. Who will maintain the boulevard? Will the city really keep up the green space? What are the alternatives when the city is unable to live up to its promises? How can we foster cooperation among the private and public sectors to make this happen? There is no doubt that the Rutherford Ave. bypass is ugly. Lanes will go. That is going to happen. Change is here and now. Keep and fix the tunnels, keep traffic away from Main St. and let the digging begin.
Charlie Denison May 20, 2011 at 10:17 PM
I, like many people, want to make sure that traffic does not back up needlessly and in particular does not start diverting into neighborhood streets. However, the traffic analysis shows that BOTH options will handle the current and projected traffic volumes. Given this, why wouldn't we all want to support the surface option, which unlike the underpass option, allows for a continuous linear park on the east side of the road (similar to the Southwest Corridor)? The surface option also allows for more land to be reclaimed and redeveloped as parkland and as development parcels (housing, retail, offices, etc). (Building on top of the underpasses as they ramp up and down is very expensive and limited in what you can do.) I think it's really important that we not let our fears about traffic backups make our decision for us and limit what our future will look like. Keeping the underpasses severely limits our options for creating a true urban neighborhood that is a pleasure to travel through AND to be in.
Rob McArthur May 21, 2011 at 12:42 AM
As I have stated in the past, we currently have two lanes of traffic moving northbound into one lane over the Alford Street Bridge and two lanes around the most dangerous rotary north to route 93.. The traffic backs up on occaision to the Sovereign Bank during peak. I am not an engineer, but with the current ongoing underpass construction and limited lanes with the closing of the underpass, this is the real test that is measuring the amont of traffic congestion in the neighborhood that everyone is so concerned about. The neighborhood is not congested with traffic and our quality of life can only improve with this project moving forward. Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square in it's cuurent state are the gateways to our great town, and this project needs to move forward now! While I support the surface option, we need consensus today and not another battle of new vs. old. Reply
MJ Campbell May 21, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Justice Brandeis had it right. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. While I am sure that those heavily involved in the Rutherford Ave./Sullivan Sq./Tunnel, etc. Project had the best intentions for the good of the town, not all the town is aware of this. As witnessed from the meeting of Wednesday, 18 May, many otherwise knowledgeable residents were unaware in varying degrees of the Project and its significance to their lives. Did people work hard on this Project? Yes, they did. Was the process advertised well? No, it was not. Democracy is messy. Residents want and need information that is broadly disseminated in a timely manner. This was not done. Please re-read Kate N.'s comments and take them seriously. What are the specific answers? This Project is going forward and that is fine. Exactly how it proceeds may still be up for input. Great cooperation happens with inclusion. We can do that and have true community involvement.
Joan D May 21, 2011 at 02:32 AM
Please give me a break. Sullivan Square the gateway into Charlestown?? Charlestown and the City turned its back on Sullivan Square fifty years ago and never looked back. Tell that to the CANA crowd, who fought long and hard to dump the 93 exist onto Cambridge Street. Talk about a foolish ill thought out design. But I am sure the number crunchers were sure that the plan would work. Cant wait until Bob Kraft builts his 25,000 seat soccer stadium in Somerville on the CTOWN line. Yup no mitigation for CTOWN. Should have taken the minor league baseball team but no. BTW has anybody seen the improvements to the Asssemby Square Mall, they put trees in and eliminated a whole lane of traffic. Try getting out of home depot after picking up flowers for the window boxes folks. As far a class warfare townie vs toonie, give me a break. Its allways been about keeping property values high. Look whats going on at Pier 5 in the navy yard. No wonder folks call Sullivan square the lost village.
PattyK May 21, 2011 at 01:43 PM
it doesn't take a townie vs. toonie issue to realize that right now the underpasses allow traffic to flow. it is illogical to me to think that bringing all traffic to the surface heading to the same place will not slow traffic down. We (Townies and toonies) will be in that traffic and we will not be happy. In addition to the added traffic lights we will be subjected to...remember that pedestrians will always have the right of way, so when everyone steps off the curb to head to their favorite new green space or park, that they will also be slowing down the traffic. If i hit the powerball tomorrow i would put back the overpass from the tobin to 93n. (who's vote took that down?) I would take out the offramp that dumps onto cambridge street(who put that up?) and move it nearer to assembly mall area...and the Sullivan square T station would be moved back to it's original spot on the other side of road (where they still park their buses overnight) and the current bus station would beturned into a nice park. If only the engineers from Disneyland could have been hired for this reconfiguration in the first place...it would have been money well spent.
PattyK May 21, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Joe K Forget the underpass and the surface road Bring back the Middlesex Canal! elimate all the discussions..
Jim Morrison May 21, 2011 at 02:44 PM
I want to know why it's called Sullivan Square. It's a circle.
Rob McArthur May 21, 2011 at 04:36 PM
With all due respect, the underpass hasn't been fully operational in 3 years as the north and southbound sides had been closed for a significant amonut of time and the northbound side has been closed since this winter. Traffic has backed up minimally since the latest closure, and honestly believe those opposed are overemphasising the amount of pressure the underpass takes off Rutherford Ave and this neighborhood. My only recollection of traffic being backed in the neighborhood was one Fall Saturday morning a few years ago when Rutherford Ave was closed for the filimg of a Tom Cruise movie and the city was at fault for not recognizing a potential traffic problem. The scared tactic by those opposed to the surface option that this neighbrhood will become a parking lot is unfounded as the current state of Rutherford Ave and the ongoing construction today is the best test to measure congestion once the underpass is buried.
Dan May 21, 2011 at 08:29 PM
Rob - During rush hour in and out of the city when the underpass was closed, the traffic was backed up in some cases all the way to City Sq. True, during the weekends traffic did get though without much delay. The point is to offer a direct pathway for commuter traffic so it's not stalled out on Rutherford Ave getting through lights and allowing local traffic in and out of C-Town without dodging in and out of this traffic. And don't forget it's the only route out of city when the Big Dig tunnels are closed. What do we do when that happens? Does the surface design achieve this? Looking at the diagrams I don't see that. I'm not happy with the current underpass design either. But it's closer to a workable option. Also note, when the Cruse movie was shooting the underpass, All of Rutherford Ave from austin St, the parallel and intersecting side streets connecting to it, and a good part of Main street was also closed. Lastly, it was during a weekend. I'm not sure it offers you the data point to disprove the need in moving commuter traffic on its own path through the Rutherford Ave corridor. But it does show the an small example of added traffic load into Bunker Hill and Medford streets we would face if Rutherford was not passable.
Dan May 21, 2011 at 08:33 PM
Jim - You know the old adage: Square peg, Round hole I guess it holds true here ;-}
jasom m May 22, 2011 at 12:56 AM
With all due respect, the Congressman's intent was correct. He just got cold feet in front of the townies and toonies. He knows that if you restore the overpass the underpass works!!!! It always has! Plain and simple traffic flows. Perhaps the toonies don't remember but the original design actually worked. Too bad the only one with any gumption to speak up is the Glavin guy from the council. Where prey tell is our rep and senator and City Councilor? I haven't heard from them.
Jason MacDonald May 22, 2011 at 02:21 AM
Thats a different Jason M Not me !!!!
nick czech November 29, 2012 at 06:33 PM
http://www.rcic-charlestown.org/

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